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Supreme Court rules workers’ oral complaints also protected from retaliation

An article by WestLaw News & Insight discusses the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to reverse a lower court’s ruling that an employee’s oral workplace complaint was not protected from retaliation under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The high court said that oral complaints that are detailed and clear enough for a reasonable employer to recognize that the complaint is “an assertion of rights protected by the statute” can be protected under the FLSA.

The case involved a man who was fired from a plastics company after complaining to several supervisors about the location of time clocks. The man complained that the clocks were located such that employees had to clock out before removing their protective gear, which the FLSA says they should also be paid for. The man was fired after he did not clock out as his employer stipulated. The FLSA covers the rules for wages, hours and overtime pay in employment.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts to decide whether the man’s oral complaint was sufficient for the employer to know he was “filing” an official complaint that could later be used in a claim of retaliation.

Justice Scalia dissented, saying that only filing a written complaint with a court or government agency shows without doubt that an employee is filing a complaint. Attorneys who represent employers said that the decision means that employers will have to properly train supervisors to note when a complaint is being voiced and will have to make sure to fully investigate all complaints.


The Supreme Court explains when a complaint is a complaint (WestLaw News & Insight)


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